Jan. 29, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — It may technically be considered the offseason for the University of Notre Dame men’s soccer team, but the spring months are where the majority of planning and preparation is accomplished for the next Irish regular season campaign. Returning to campus earlier this month following the university-wide holiday and semester break, the Notre Dame team immediately commenced workouts and training sessions to ready for nine exhibition matches against outside competition to begin the 2016 soccer calendar.
“We are limited through the first month, but by the middle of February we can go pretty well full-time,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. “At this point they are working five days a week between a combination of our fitness coach Matt Howley and our coaching staff, and sometimes they organize together and play pick-up. Over the winter you hope they take a break because that is really the only point during the year that there is any downtime, so you hope that from the end of the season until the middle of January that they have taken a break. We test them to see where the fitness levels are at when they first come back to start building up to play.”
For the third time in the last four years, the Irish kick off the spring schedule by traveling to Ohio to take on MLS side the Columbus Crew. The March 13 game will be held at 11 a.m. (ET) on the Obetz Training Field in Obetz, Ohio. Notre Dame most recently met the Crew to open the 2013 and 2014 spring schedules, and Columbus has selected four former Irish players during the annual MLS SuperDraft, including former forward Vince Cicciarelli (’15) in the third round of the 2016 college entry draft earlier this month.
“In many ways I would rather leave that game until near the end but you don’t always have the pick of that,” Clark said. “It works in well with our spring break and means we can travel to play that game. It is a bit early for us but at the same time it works in well with the Columbus Crew schedule, and this is the fourth time we have played them during the spring.
“We have played Columbus, gone to Chicago to play the Fire last year, we even previously went to play Toronto FC, and for the more experienced players this is always a good game,” Clark said of annual spring friendlies with MLS clubs. “It lets us see the standard of play, even though in a perfect world it would be your last game but it always comes in right at the start. We will be ready after being able to work through the break when the boys stay on campus, it is a terrific time to prepare.”
Notre Dame begins the college portion of its schedule with games against Michigan State (12:30 p.m.) and Oakland (2:10 p.m.) on March 19 at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Michigan. After a pair of home contests against DePaul (2 p.m.) and Western Michigan (3:45 p.m.) at old Alumni Field, the Irish return to the ShindigZ National Soccer Festival Spring Classic to face Indiana on April 9 at 7 p.m. at D’Arcy Stadium in Fort Wayne. Matchups with Bethel (10 a.m.) and Kentucky (5 p.m.) cap the collection of college foes on the Notre Dame spring schedule.
“There are quite a few days where we play double games, and the reason for that is because we want everyone to get into games,” Clark said. “This is the time where many of our players, and especially the boys in the backup situations from the fall, this is their opportunity to show what they can do. I always say to the players that the first person they have to prove that they can play at this level is themselves. The next people you have to convince are your teammates, and at that point you are in a great position to convince the coaching staff. This is when we do the teaching and you set the foundation for next season, when you really get a good look at the team that you have. The preseason for all fall sports is such a short period of time.”
The highlight of the seven-game stretch is the meeting with eight-time NCAA champion Indiana, a regular opponent of Notre Dame every spring in front of capacity crowds in Fort Wayne. The teams will collide on the pitch for the first time since Notre Dame emerged with a 1-0 victory in double overtime against Indiana on Aug. 30 of last year in Bloomington, the fifth result for the Irish in their last seven regulation games against the Hoosiers.
“There is no question that Fort Wayne has been a regular fixture for as many years as I can remember, and I think there were 3,500 fans at our game there against Indiana last year,” Clark said. “Any time that we can get the in-state rivalry going with IU, we could be playing them at tiddlywinks and it would be a big game. They are one of the best soccer programs in the country and we have tremendous respect for Indiana, it’s a game that we love to play. We play them in the spring, we usually play them in the fall and have often shared in each other’s fall tournaments as well, so that is another good test for our guys to play in a big-time atmosphere.”
In terms of big atmosphere, the Notre Dame spring gets no bigger than the yearly meeting with one of the youth level programs of the Mexico National Team. The Irish welcome the Mexico Under-20 National Team to Notre Dame on April 22 at 7:30 p.m., the only official spring game that will be held inside Alumni Stadium. The game is a key component of the program’s alumni weekend, which features the annual team awards banquet and a Saturday afternoon alumni game.
“We do have a great climax game to the spring when the Mexico U-20s come to town, that is always a phenomenal game,” Clark said. “The local Hispanic community turns out in force to cheer on Mexico and it will be their 10th visit to our campus, they have one of the best youth national team programs in the world. Not just in CONCACAF, the Mexico U-17s, U-20s and Olympic team have all been phenomenal. It’s a real challenge for our team and something we work toward all spring. We play that game before holding our alumni game the next day and closing with our end of the year banquet, so that weekend culminates nicely.”
Stay tuned to UND.com and follow @NDMenSoccer on Twitter for additional information on the April 22 contest against Mexico as it becomes available.
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball and men’s soccer programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.